I saw in The Independent newspaper in the UK this week that many local councils in England are planning to close their libraries, due to funding cuts imposed by the current government. Books have been a huge part of my life. I can remember going to Ramsgate library as a kid and marvelling at stack upon stack of books. I can still remember the hushed atmosphere and the smell of books. I devoured books like there was no tomorrow. I might point out that I have 9 air signs so reading is manna from heaven to me.
Of course, libraries have changed with the times and now offer a huge range of services. I still believe that denying access to the printed word is the work of barbarians. It denies access to reading and education for all those in the community who need access to this wonderful, free service. And it does seem ironic that money can’t be found for libraries while billions are poured into weapons and armaments for wars the great majority of the population don’t want anyway. Nor do I believe that the future lies solely with electronic books, no matter the popularity of Kindle and other e-readers and so on. I can remember when I got repetitive strain injury so badly in my mid-thirties I was invalided out of the workforce. We had just taken a mortgate and it was devastating, not just the loss of money but also the loss of a sense of identity as I’d always wanted to work.
But I can remember, when I told an older friend of my situation, how she commented that young people always think the road through life is going to be a straight one when, in fact, all sorts of road blocks and diversions can turn up to throw the best-laid plans into absolute chaos and confusion.
So when I think of people saying we now have the internet and e-books and we don’t need libraries, I also imagine that we can’t always rely on the contining existence of the internet or life as we know it. If there were some sort of global environmental meltdown, or – god forbid – global conflict, or some sort of disruption from space, our current way of living and reliance on current communications could well collapse.
So we still need libraries and books. But more than that, we need community. If we get rid of libraries, we consign people to individual lives in individual homes, isolated from each other, and living lives which are increasingly bereft of human company and contact. It’s bad enough already. We all know of elderly people who have died and no-one has known for months that they are no longer alive. Or we don’t know our neighbours any more. That sort of thing.
This whole thing of community has been underlined for me by the events following the floods in Queensland, particularly in Brisbane where so many homes were devastated as the raging waters swept through their homes, destroyed structure and contents, and left a stinking sea of mud. People who hadn’t been affected turned up in their many, many hundreds, equipped with buckets, gumboots, shovels and brooms, all volunteering to help complete strangers affected by the floods. The roads were lined with the cars of these kind, caring people who had heeded the call of community and turned up to help their fellow human beings.
You see this wherever disasters strike. It’s not unique to Australia. It happens in India, China, the Middle East, the United States, South America – people open their hearts to help those in need. This is community – the opening of hearts to all people regardless of their colour, creed, sexuality or social status. I have great faith in people, and I believe that the scenes in Brisbane are ones which we can build for the future. In fact, it’s happening. People are taking it upon themselves to build small communities in their local areas – whether it be to swap work, to exchange clothes or food, whatever. It’s the face of the future – loving hearts open to all.
But the other important fact about libraries is that they are a hub for the community. Here people can meet, children can attend book readings or other activities, groups can organise get-togethers, and so on.